RU-Pitt Personal For Panthers

Ghosts from Pitt-Rutgers games past will haunt the Panthers' football team all week, as tapes from those contests are playing on a continuous loop on every flat screen television in the practice facility.

And certainly, no Pittsburgh upperclassman should need additional motivation. The Scarlet Knights have won the past four games against Pitt, which means the Panthers have not beaten Rutgers since Dave Wannstedt returned to be the head coach at his alma mater.

Pitt (5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big East) takes on Rutgers (4-1, 0-1) Friday at 8 p.m. in Piscataway, N.J. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

"This is a game, the past couple of years, that we haven't played as capable as or better than them,'' Wannstedt said. "They've always gotten the better of us. And as we look at them on tape now, they've playing at a high level. Their opening game was a disappointing loss, but they've gotten better each week.

"(And) they've won four straight. We know playing there will be an atmosphere where our players need to be very focused and need to play a lot better than we have the last couple times we've gone there. ... This will be, for sure, the most challenging game and the toughest game we've played all year.''

The Pitt-Rutgers football series has been dominated by both schools at different times since it began in 1981. The Panthers lead 19-7, including nine straight wins to open the series, as well as six straight victories from 1999-2004. Then came the Wannstedt Era.

Pitt lost 37-29 at Rutgers in 2005, 20-10 at home in 2006, 20-16 in 2007 at Rutgers and 54-34 last year at Heinz Field. The last two home losses have been particularly disheartening for the Panthers' defense. In 2006, RU tailback Ray Rice ran for 225 yards and was the catalyst for a game-clinching 90-yard drive with a 63-yard run, 85 total yards in the drive and the capping one-yard TD.

Last season was a mess from start to finish for the Panthers. After LeSean McCoy gave Pitt a 7-0 lead on a 33-yard run, Rutgers and Mike Teel went to work. When the senior quarterback was finished, he had 361 passing yards and six touchdowns, including TD tosses for 60, 79, 26 and 36 yards.

"Right after we got done watching the UConn film, we moved on to Rutgers,'' Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "And this one's personal. We can't stress watching film more or working harder, because we do that, but we have to do them better. I don't want to say extra focus, because we are a focused team.

"But we just have to get down and dirty -- do the little things -- everything, because it's personal. I haven't been on the winning side of the ball against these guys, so I'm really taking it personally this week. All of our seniors are really taking it personal, and all the guys who haven't played against them ... we want them all on the same page with us.

"(And) we have to do whatever we can to win this game,'' Stull added. "We have some Jersey guys on the team as well, and we're all excited for this opportunity. Four years in a row, if that's not good enough motivation, the only team we haven't beaten in the Big East, I'm telling you. It's bitter. It really is, and it's definitely personal for all of us.''

That point hits home for fifth-year senior wideout Oderick Turner, who is a Teaneck, N.J. High School alum, so he's 0-for-4 against his home-state team. That stat has made for some tough trips home for the holidays.

"Every time I go home, I hear about it,'' Turner said. "My friends and family try to support us the best that they can, but it's hard when we haven't beaten them in my four previous years here. So, it's been tough, but I just want to come home one time after a win. And this has to be our year.

"There's definitely extra motivation for us this year. Rutgers is the only team we haven't beaten in the Big East, so it's very important for us. I hear it all the time. I've got a lot of friends on that team, and hopefully I'll be able to go home after this one and have something good to talk about. This is my last one, so it's extra special for me. (A win) would be the best feeling right there.''

In his opening comments to his team Sunday, Wannstedt asked the seniors to stand. Then, he asked them to sit if they were part of wins against Rutgers. Sixth-year senior Adam Gunn was the only one to take his seat. Gunn was a true freshman on the 2004 Pitt team that thumped RU 41-17 at Heinz Field. But he redshirted that season, so after a couple seconds Gunn stood up again.

"Absolutely, it's been a long time since we beat them,'' Gunn said. "That was my freshman year, but I redshirted that season. So, I really can't take credit for it. I didn't play, but I was on the sideline (at home). ... We know that we have a big game ahead of us, and we have to be ready for a four-quarter game.

"It's going to be very important for us to play our most complete game. There's definitely motivation for us in this game. They came in here last year and really put it on us. So, we know we have to play a lot better than we did last year, and we have to prove it on the field. I do know that they've always been really well-prepared against us every time.

"They have a good coaching staff,'' Gunn added, "and they were ready for us in every game. I remember two years ago, when I was playing against them, it came down to one big play. That was a deciding factor in the game. So, we have to eliminate all of our mistakes and prepare for a tough game.''

Pitt senior tight end Dorin Dickerson has followed the Big East since his youth football days, using the Panthers' six-year winning streak from 1999-2004 as a reference point, so Rutgers wasn't real good during that stretch.

"But Coach Schiano really has turned that program around,'' Dickerson said. "I just think that we have to prepared for anything, but not necessarily something different. They just got the better of us the past few years, but this is our year to turn it around. They have a good coaching staff and schemes and are well-prepared.

"We have that, too, but we need to execute better against them and be ready for a tough, physical game for four quarters. And we have to find a way to get the job done at the end. With all the games playing on the TVs, we can't get away from the challenge ahead of us. And we're real excited about it, playing on ESPN there.

"And it's personal for Bill, because he got hurt against them last year,'' Dickerson added, "but I think we're all going to bring something more to the table this week since we haven't beaten them since we've all been here. And the guys from New Jersey, I'm sure they want to step it up for all their boys back home as well.''

A Panthers victory also should exorcise all those RU ghosts lurking around the Pitt practice facility this week.

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